T-Shirt Perfection

Like you, if I am going to spend time cutting out and sewing a T-shirt, I want it to fit at least as well as, if not better than RTW.

You know after visiting numerous blogs with the proud sewers wearing their T-shirts, you can see drag lines up the wazoo. Oh yes, the comments are raving about how well the knit top looks without ever mentioning the drag lines where a bust dart could/should be or the sleeve cap being too short (my pet peeve). Even on Men’s RTW T-shirts you can see drag lines on the chest:creative-tshirt-design%20(22)

Next time you browse through the myriad of blogs bragging about their latest T-shirt pattern from yet another Indie “designer” really check out where those drag lines are and if the front rises up like this one…holy moley…even without boobs, it is unacceptable!

So, I set about to compare 2 Coni Crawford patterns…one Butterick 5215 1and one of Coni’s own label CS1207.4 The Butterick has 3 styles all with different amounts of ease and unless you measure them and measure yourself, you have no idea of which one to cut out.

I am so tired of reading blogs and reviews where the sewer says, “I cut a size 12 because I always cut a size 12 and it didn’t fit”…well isn’t that brilliant? Did they measure ANYTHING or themselves? I doubt it. Did they even stretch the fabric to see if it was a 4 way or had good recovery…maybe not.

Photos were taken before I cut the fabric so I knew what was being offered and it had to come close to a RTW top I have that fits well (loose) for my work. There is a new Pinterest page showing all the steps I went through to get to the point of cutting BEFORE cutting.

While View B of CS 1207 came closest to the desired measurements, it was sleeveless and had a square neckline so I moved on to the View A of CS 1207 knowing that the 2 extra inches in the bust would be removed and possibly the hip area too. If you CLTL (cut large, trim later) you at least have something to work with instead of a wadder that is too snug.


So you may say you don’t want to go through all those stages…so don’t…keep cutting that size 12 no matter whether it is from the Big 4 or some wild-eyed Indie blogger who wants to charge you $20 for a basically un-tested pattern.

If you have a cup size larger than a “D”, I wish you good luck in getting a flat front pattern to reach across your chest without bulk under your armpit, and not make drag lines and/or rise up in the center front and expose your waist.

Measuring the RTW item you want to duplicate makes sense too, so let’s do it…Total bust 46″ and total length 25″:


Bicep 16″and total hip 51″ :


Upper chest 15.5″ and shoulder width 4″ :


I have seen designers avoid using darts in knits by tugging excess fabric up towards the shoulder or down towards the side seam as has been the common rule, but I have no problem adding an armhole dart (especially in a print knit) because that is where I needed it. Also the back side seams are “slipped”  1/2 inch as the front ones are moved over to be more flattering. I did not include photos of “truing up” the side seams but they will be equal in length and curve on the paper pattern later.38

Trying on the garment along the way to check for gaps and drag lines before the sleeves are attached. You can see the horizontal lines are parallel with the floor, no riding up and all I added was the armhole dart. Please excuse the center photo with the twisting, it makes it look like the side seam is at an angle which it is not.


Adding the dart on the paper and re-measuring the armhole front and back with the large Curve Runner tool.


Selecting the sleeve to match the armhole dimensions:49

If you cut the sleeve the same size as the bodice, you may need to drop it down a size or two after basting and trying it on as in this photo:50

The side seams were also taken in from the waist to hips. This fabric was so soft and stretchy that like many knits, it tended to “grow” during the handling and trying on so the seams needed to be taken in a little more than usual. The side seams at the bust are curved on all Coni’s patterns for ease and the best fit so if your T-shirt pattern is straight, maybe you would want to add that subtle curve.

Here is how I compare patterns by stacking. I eventually used the CS 1207 with the thicker white paper on the bottom. Did I think about making a muslin? No, because I have measured every aspect of all the patterns and the RTW top and the only variable is the drape of this poly knit once it is on my body and I can pin and tweak it to fit better.13

The altered sleeve and dart before the neck binding:


Comparing the finished garment with the RTW you can see the back neckline is higher for my rounded back and the sleeves are 2 inches longer…hooray! Thanks, Coni!


So now I have a pattern ready for the next time I use a poly knit like this one.

If you have time please visit the Pinterest page to see more of the steps, as I did not want to include/bore the pants off you with all 50+ photos here.

I want to thank Alethia for her recent link to the resurgence of US made garments: http://sewmuchtalent.com/video/video/show?id=2115730%3AVideo%3A80054&xgs=1&xg_source=msg_share_video

Happy New Year Everyone!


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43 Responses to T-Shirt Perfection

  1. Margaret says:

    Thank you for the pictures of your evaluation of the 2 patterns and your progression in fitting. There are some things I don’t understand. I am not totally sure which pattern you chose and why and as to why the back seam adjustment was done. I think use of a top that fits or components of several tops is a good idea. I would also like to know how to make a drop shoulder sleeve into a sleeve that sits at the shoulder proper.

    • mrsmole says:

      I chose the CS 1207 view A because it was the closest to my RTW top with a little extra ease that could be removed later. The back seam was adjusted because it was baggy in the back and swinging forward 1/2 inch, so to get the side seams to hang straight, the front was moved over and the new side seams basted. The best way to make a dropped shoulder into a normal shoulder is to overlay the one you want over the one you don’t want and trace it unto a new piece of paper. Then do the same for the new sleeve as it will fit the normal shoulder once it has been traced. In the Pinterest page you can see the stacking of all the pattern pieces to see all the different shapes and dimensions. usually we don’t do that but it was a teaching opportunity I could not skip. Coni’s patterns fit very well and I just wanted to start with the one that would be the nearest to what I wear, only better. Thanks, for asking, Margaret.

  2. Mary says:

    Thanks, Mrs. Mole! If I’m going to take the time and spend the (Cdn.) dollars to make a t shirt, I want it to fit me well enough to be comfortable in it. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who noticed the “whiskers” and drag lines in all the “I made it in an hour” blog photos. Thanks for breaking down your process for us all. Happy 2016 to you & yours.

    • mrsmole says:

      You know, Mary, I just don’t get “I made it in an hour” mindset either. For us older ladies who have saggy and baggy issues with both our bodies and the clothes, it sure does take more time for the fitting side of sewing. When drag lines point to the problem, they just scream, “Fix Me”!

  3. sewingzoe says:

    I agree completely with you about what you wrote. One remark, though. When you change the side seam to make the back narrower, you have to balance the pattern. Conny Crawford is adamant about this and writes how to do it (you pin front and back at the armhole point and slide the upper piece until you get parallel CB and CF or grainlines; then you make the seam line average between F and B). Your side seamline is now not straight vertical, which is the only incorrect thing on your tshirt. If you balance the pattern, it will be. Thank you for your post. I dislike as much as you drags and too long shoulders seams, which throuw the pattern off. By the way Marcy Tilton describes how to balance the pattern in her book Easy Guide for Tops (Taunton Press / Threads). I love your blog. Carmen in the Netherlands (sewingzoe).

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you, Zoe, for mentioning a final step in the pattern altering. Normally with wovens and muslins, I have been able to demonstrate this step on jackets for Nancy. If this knit had been a solid I could have shown how the back side seams swung forward 1/2 inch and needed to be narrowed while the front seams would have been widened to be balanced. As I did not have any extra fabric on the fronts to allow me to do this and the fabric was so stretchy, I left out that step in the photos. The paper pattern will be altered to reflect that step next time I make another one. Thankfully this tie dye knit was forgiving and allowed me to remove one extra inch in a circumference of 50 without complaining…ha ha.

  4. Showing as much care on your tops as on a wedding dress – which is as it should be.
    I agree with you about darts in knits. If it needs a dart it really shouldn’t matter what the fabric is – however, knits are forgiving and it is sometimes possible to ease the excess into the point it would have been sewn. Marvellous fabrics.
    Enjoy wearing your top, and now you have finessed the pattern the next ones will be easy!

  5. sewruth says:

    OK, get the brides back because you obviously have too much time on your hands!
    However, a comprehensive and detailed (obsessive?) post about fit, which even in the most relaxed and casual garment is worth it. Thank you Mrs Mole.
    BTW I actually like the tie-dye T without sleeves, you have toned and tanned arms and should show them off – I suppose hauling all those layers of tulle and lace and poly-satin has its benefits. I received a French curve for Christmas – now I just have to figure out an opportunity to use it……..
    Happy and healthy New Year.

    • mrsmole says:

      Ha ha…you know, Ruth, I did have a couple days without brides and you see what happens. Obsessive…surely not…to me, planning is more than 75% of the garment and the more you do before you grab those scissors, the better the result. Lifting heavy gowns above my head to hang them on high wall hooks or the horizontal pole must be the answer for the arms. I have to laugh a little when my brides and mothers cannot manage to do it. You can get pretty creative with a French curve flipping it over to make nice lines although your creations are amazing and so flattering even without one!

  6. Christine says:

    Thank you that is so useful, especially to me a knit novice. I have recently come back to sewing after a long hiatus, when knits were but a novelty, so am grateful for any advice I can glean. I am glad you notice the faults too, I have been shocked at some of the blogs I have seen, where for instance, the hems are an absolute disgrace and wonder from what planet some of these people come.

    • Jen (NY) says:

      Yes, I hate seeing a reasonably nicely made dress with a puckered machine hem stitched 1/2 inch from the edge! Many young bloggers did not grow up with a parent who sews like many of us a few years older did. I suggest that part of the problem is the removal of home ec classes from most jr high and high schools. It seems like there would be quite a bit of interest in home ec these days. It would be nice to see a renewed interest in providing these kinds of classes to kids.

      • mrsmole says:

        Amen Christine and Jen…wouldn’t the world be a better place if children were taught basic cooking skills and sewing? I read an article yesterday on 10 things we never teach our students and two were how to file your income taxes and how to get along with others at work. Sewing teaches patience and planning and art, cooking teaches measuring and basic chemistry…it seems we have lost all of that to video gaming and time texting.

      • John Thomas says:

        Hi, I am a lurker from NC fascinated with your blog. I agree with Jen about HomEc classes (and Shop for guys). With all of the professed desire to develop more female engineers, dropping HomeEc and its practical skills that it teaches seems mighty short-sighted. I managed a company that had a 120+ person engineering staff and all of the people in our Engineering Department had been exposed to practical skills such as woodworking, metalworking, etc. Sewing is really not much different than those fundamental skills.


      • mrsmole says:

        Well welcome, John…you know when clients ask me how I manage to “know” what needs doing on their dresses, I always answer, “it is just engineering”. We are all linked together manipulating pieces of a puzzle and indeed making those puzzle pieces in the first place and being willing to mess with them until they fit. Chefs do it, carpenters do it, metal workers do it…it is having the vision that others may not and using it every day with passion. I have always wanted to build bird houses and maybe one day when the brides stop coming, I can do that, too!

  7. Tia Dia says:

    What a great post about fitting a tee! I loved all the pictures, details and alterations you did to get the tee that fit the way you wanted to. The issue of drag lines is a biggie, in all patterns, imho, and not just in tees! It’s the one thing that I always see everywhere in fashion/pattern/style photos, except on the haute couture runway shows. I confess to being the ultimate in laziness when it comes to a jersey tee-type shirt, except for adequate cleavage coverage. My biggest issue is the short/sway back adjustment, and every time I’ve done it, I just hate the end result, so I just schlepp around in tees full of drag lines!! Which is why, if I have a choice, I prefer patterned knits… hides a multitude of sins, fitting and otherwise…

    • mrsmole says:

      Thinking about a proper sway back alteration involves a center back seam but some of the extra fabric can be taken out at the back yoke area and taking in the waist at the side seams. All you are really doing is shortening the back length somewhere. If you try on a baggy back t-shirt and pin out 1/2 inch horizontally across where a back yoke seam would be, you may be able to reduce the extra fabric. Of course this will involve the back curve of the sleeve but that is easy to change and reduce if it works. I’d try it on one of mine, Tia.

  8. Mary says:

    There was a blogger who offered skype/video appointments to read your draglines, and teach how to deal with them.
    Have you ever considered teaching fitting?

    • mrsmole says:

      I used to comment on drag lines from seeing people’s blog photos. Most wrote back to me thanking me and sending more detailed photos for more help. Last time I wrote to someone about her drag lines, not her sewing, she went ballistic and told everyone she knew that I was a horrible person and she had never been so insulted in all her life. Drag lines come from the designer, not the sewer, and so many can be removed by dropping a back crotch or lifting a shoulder but I learned that not everyone who posts photos wants any helpful comments…only applause. I have taught fitting/pattern perfection in my home and have done draping and pattern making classes for my local ASG but only when there is a slot of time when the brides are not swarming around…ha ha!

  9. robbie says:

    It’s so nice to know you’re also a Coni Crawford fan. Her patterns fit me well too–sometimes minor adjustments are needed. I’ve never had a wadder with her patterns but I have had plenty with the ‘V’ label. Great tip about that dart and sleeve adjustment. Following your pics on Pinterest.

  10. mrsmole says:

    She came and did a seminar for our local ASG group a few years back and it was very eye opening. Her pants patterns fit so well, I never need to buy any others for me or my clients.

  11. Jen in Oz says:

    Wish I’d seen this post two days ago. I downloaded a free tshirt pattern (at least I didn’t pay $20 for it! ) the other day. Cut it out in a slinky jersey as a test run went to start sewing and there was NO mention of what seam allowance to use! I went with 6mm figuring if it was too big I could take the tshirt in.
    Then the pattern piece for the neck band was the same length for all 5 sizes. The instructions for adding it were quite Disney from anything else I’d ever seen: sew it on and if it’s too long, cut off the excess. Well, when i pinned it, it seemed too short! So I sewed the short ends together, quarter marked the band and the neckline and sewed it together slightly stretching where necessary. Now it is sort of wobbly (not stretched enough?) at the centre front – which means the pattern piece WAS too long. Oh well, it was only supposed to be a test run. So I cut it out again in my “fashion fabric” also a slinky jersey but with self stripes. Sewed it together only to discover that this fabric isn’t quite as stretchy as my test run and this tshirt is VERY tight on me. Oh well. At least I didn’t waste too much of my life on this.

    • mrsmole says:

      Do you have a smaller sister or friend you can pass this to? I have enough wadders hanging in my closet that were supposed to fit but I have learned a hard lesson…wrap fronts do not suit me. Neckband pattern pieces are just a guide, they rarely are accurate enough to use right out of the envelope. Measure the finished neck, cut that length and then you know you will have plenty to cut off. I baste all my neck binding on by hand first to make sure they are stretched enough and standing up instead of flaring out…I hate that! Then I sew the center back seam and attach it. If the neckband looks bad…it ruins everything! Hopefully this is your last bad t-shirt! Best wishes, Jen!

  12. maryfunt says:

    Wonderful documentation of your methods to get a perfectly fitting tee shirt. I know what you mean about sewers who zip up any pattern and expect it to fit. I also refrain from commenting too much about fit issues unless I know the blogger will really appreciate the advice. Most just want positive comments about their project. I bet you are putting that pattern someplace safe.

  13. mrsmole says:

    Yes Ma’am….this one is a keeper! Do you remember the old patterns called “Make it tonight” or the “2 hour blazer”? Once I was in a seminar and the speaker held up the 2 hour blazer pattern envelope that she had consulted on back then and she announced, “This 2 hour blazer will take you a minimum of 8 hours” and everyone nodded their head. If you want a t-shirt that looks like you paid $5 for it…then please go and buy one and not even waste one hour and one yard of fabric on it. Walmart ones fit me fine but I want to look like I put a little effort into it and “upgraded”.

  14. prttynpnk says:

    Hey- no fair! You entertained me and I learned something….sneaky!

  15. mrsmole says:

    Sorry, Anne, you know I like to plan ahead and make sure the boobies have enough fabric to cover them without drag lines. You know this would be even more entertaining if I could capture all the really crappy t-shirt photos from blogs to use as a a reference…so that is left for you to do…ha ha!

  16. Monique says:

    Learned so much again, Mrs Mole, thank you! Long gone are the days when I thought you just had to make up the pattern out of the envelope and it would fit perfectly, so I’ve been educating myself in fitting the past year or two, and you’ve been instrumental in training my eye and broadening my idea of what sort creative solutions are possible. But there’s always more to learn and more to do-better-next-time, isn’t there? So I’ll be coming back here, that’s for sure!
    Everyone reading: Happy New Year. May all your sewing projects go well – or at least give you pleasurable and not too costly lessons!

  17. Your posts never fail to educate me. Thank you! Happy New Year to you and your family! Looking forward to seeing more of your work in 2016!

  18. Tami says:

    Such a helpful post, there is always something to learn about fitting and I learned more today, thank you. The fit is so critical, that is why we sew, once you learn about it it is nearly impossible to go back to RTW. You should take a couple of days off at the end of February Mrs. Mole and come up to the Sew Expo in Washington. Connie has classes and a booth, a very interesting lady to talk to.

  19. mrsmole says:

    Thank you, Tami, most of my friends travel to the Expo but I am not one for being out with large groups. Coni did a seminar for our local ASG a couple years ago and she was very enlightening.Just the thought of being with 35,000 wild sewers in one place would cause me to wilt. I hope you can get into the classes you want and don’t buy too much!!!

    • Tami says:

      I must of gotten used to it, because I don’t like crowds either. I am part of a Clothing and Textile Adviser group, sort of like ASG, that volunteers for Expo. In return, Expo pays into our scholarship fund that we use for sewing camps. So we hostess all the classes and do the behind the scenes on the runways. You can generally pick the classes you wish to assist with, but often the ones I learn the most are ones that I would never have chosen for myself. Anyhow, I always try to catch one of Coni’s classes (by the way they are always packed). As a volunteer you can attend any of the $5 ones for free. Don’t buy too much fabric, except from Vogue Fabrics, they are always worth checking out. I’ll have to remember Jen from Oz’s comment about “instructions being quite Disney”, too funny! I teach 4-H sewing so sometimes my poor young gals will try to follow instructions, or match notches that were never made to match . . .

      • mrsmole says:

        It sounds like you have a nice set-up for Expo. But at the end of the event, I’m sure you need a little quiet time for yourself! Disney instructions…ha ha…which character wrote them? I used to teach 13 kids every week in my home and found I spent so much time drawing my own corrections on the patterns and adding those useful notches where they had been left out. It takes a special person to stick with that…hooray that you do! Rest up before Feb, Tami!!!!

  20. Fabrickated says:

    Great post and a great fit. I like these posts the best as the wedding belles can get a bit irritating from time to time. It is so worth getting a basic skirt, top or trousers pattern to fit because it can be used again and again. I always measure the patterns and compare to my body measurements. This tip is hugely helpful to anyone who complains that a home made item doesn’t fit! And I agree with Ruth about your shapely arms. It’s a nice T shirt. Do you ever go to weddings Mrs Mole? What would you make and wear for a formal event?

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you, Kate, I think I just got lucky on that photo…ha ha. I have gone to 2 wedding receptions, both brides were from one family that I have sewn for many years. Thankfully living in a rural community does not require very formal wear as I have had to wear in my past life.My more formal mothers of the bride opt for slightly beaded knit dresses that manage to skip over lumps and bumps and drape well to the floor or knees depending on what they wanted to cover up. Adding a great minimizer bra and some tight underpants complete the outfit along with a pair of killer earrings and lipstick…well that is the advice I give to them. Hope your post Christmas trip was relaxing and enlightening!

  21. symondezyn says:

    Great post, Mrs M! I have to advocate for bloggers that don’t notice their drag lines – I’ve been there, and sometimes it’s so exciting to make something that fits better than RTW, we don’t notice/care that it’s not perfect! LOL However, I know I am learning more and more each year that I sew, and those things become more important the more experienced I become. It’s always enlightening when someone more experienced points out fit issues I wouldn’t have seen, because that’s how we learn and become better ^_^

    I am glad to know you endorse the use of a dart in knit fabric – I can understand slight grading or easing with a slight bust adjustment but it just isn’t that realistic for a larger bust adjustment. I’ve mostly avoided sewing tees because I have a few RTW that are OK, but I’d like to be able to do a nicer version someday.

    • mrsmole says:

      We all have to have the chance to break the rules and make a few new ones of our own, don’t we, Amanda? Drag lines…they don’t bother most folks, just us picky ones who want to grab them, pin them out and be satisfied with clothes that flatter. Your garments are always improving because you pay attention to details and fit…Brava!

  22. Donna says:

    This is very interesting. Thank you!
    I’m wondering what causes the very long drapey drag lines on the man’s tee—the ones that extend to the chest from the side seam down near the bottom edge? If those show up in a woven fabric on a woman, would you remove those with a dart or two? I often see them in ready-to-wear and I’d Ike to know if a top can be altered to remove them. It would open up some buying choices for me.

    • mrsmole says:

      Yes, Donna, darts will fix some of those drag lines but what is causing them is lack of length in the front. If yoiu have a pattern and a muslin that shows these lines, then the front should be slashed and allowed to drop until the front hem is parallel with the floor. In RTW going up a size may help and then taking in under the arms a bit whether it be a knit or woven.

  23. Donna says:

    That is helpful! I’m heading into my 60s and my body has changed. I’ve never worn a DD before and everything is fitting differently and RTW that fits is getting harder and harder to find. I used to sew a lot and I may just have to get back to it. My stash has been patient, thank goodness. Thank you very much for taking the time to reply! 🙂

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